DIRECTOR: Lars Von Trier

CAST: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, and Willem Dafoe




IT’S VOLUME II and still Jo (Gainsbourg) can’t get no satisfaction. And how she tries.

At first she seeks it out in a doomed embrace with her first love, Jerome (LeBeouf).

They even move in together and have a baby. But there is no way Jerome can keep up with Jo’s sexual appetite. He begrudgingly allows her to see other men, but it is clear the arrangement is unlikely to last.

When he returns home one night to find their toddler teetering on the edge of the balcony, he gives Jo an ultimatum. So ends Jo’s only brush with domestic bliss.

Jerome may be a gold medal sleazeball, and reveals as much to stunning effect in his revenge, but you can’t help but feel sorry for him here.

For Jo, it’s just a blip on her journey into the harder stuff. There’s a darkly comical brush with dangerous black men arguing about which of her orifices they have first dibs on, in a language she cannot understand.

And then there’s K (Bell), a brutal sado-masochist who invites Jo into his stark, clinical sessions with the disclaimer “there are no safe-words here”.

Bell is certainly an intriguing study of a sexual kink that celebrates order and brooding dominance – though, at first, there is the quirky novelty that twinkle-toes Billy Elliot is about to dish out a jolly good spanking.

Jo is clearly a sex addict, but in denial. Forced to attend therapy in a bid to save her job, she ultimately caves in to her cravings and justifies it with a spectacular rejection of her support group. Forced to live on the margins of respectable society, she is recruited by L (Dafoe) to act as a debt collector.

Using her knowledge of men and S&M, she excels at her new job, but when L suggests she groom a vulnerable girl as her successor, love reveals itself as the greatest sadist of them all.

It’s a theme that Von Trier explored to much greater effect in his award-winning Breaking the Waves. Nymphomaniac, over two volumes, instead shares more in common with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s fetish-obsessed Salo (120 Days of Sodom) – both being essays in perversion where the attention to shock value only serves to drown out whatever voice the underlying message may have had.

As with Volume I, there are moments of desolate, understated beauty here, but Von Trier crams so much into this second instal- ment that everything feels a little muddled. He has, in Gainsbourg, a fragile heroine searching for a sense of freedom while hopelessly enslaved to her addiction.

In the end, as she scampers off into the darkness, you can’t escape the feeling that even he hasn’t a clue what to make of her.

• Nymphomaniac Vol I & II is part of Ster Kinekor’s Erotic Art House Fest, which includes the films Venus in Furs, The Canyons and Lovelace.

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